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Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (born February 26, 1954) became prime minister of Turkey on March 14, 2003. He is the leader of the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AK Party, or Justice and Development Party).

Erdoğan, was born in Istanbul, but spent his early childhood in Rize on the Black Sea Coast before returning to Istanbul at the age of 13. He was educated at a religious Imam Hatip school and at Marmara University's faculty of economics and business. Erdoğan played semi-professional football for 16 years and worked for Istanbul's municipal transport company, and became active in politics with now defunct Islamist National Salvation Party (Milli Selâmet Partisi), led by Necmettin Erbakan.

After the 1980 military coup of 12 September 1980, he gave up football and left to work in the private sector, before going for mandatory military service in 1982 as a commissioned officer.

After the 1980 coup, all political parties were disbanded, but the National Salvation Party's former members founded the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) after the restoration of democracy in 1983. In 1985 Erdoğan became the Welfare Party's chairman in Istanbul Province and stood for election as Mayor of the cosmopolitan Beyoğlu borough in central Istanbul and as a candidate for the Turkish Grand National Assembly several times in the late 1980s.

In 1991, the Welfare Party passed the (then) 5% barrier necessary to gain seats in the Grand National Assembly for the first time, and Erdoğan was elected as an Member of Parliament from Istanbul Province, although this was withdrawn by the High Electoral Committee due to the then existing voting system. In the local elections of 27 March 1994, however, the Welfare Party became the largest party in Turkey for the first time, and Erdoğan became Mayor of Greater Istanbul as well as president of the Greater Istanbul Metropolitan Council.

As mayor of Istanbul, he made a name for himself as a populist, effective administrator, building up Istanbul's infrastructure and transportation grid, while simultaneously beautifying the city, becoming one of Turkey's most popular politicians in the process.

On 12 December, 1997 at a public meeting in Siirt in southeastern Turkey, he read a poem by Ziya Gökalp, in which was stated: "Mosques are our barracks, domes our helmets, minarets our bayonets, believers our soldiers." As a consequence, he was tried and convicted of inciting religious hatred in 1998. He was sentenced to four months imprisonment between March and July 1999.

During this period Turkish Islamist politics entered a period of chaos. In 1996, the Welfare Party was declared unconstitutional and was shut down on the grounds of threatening the secular nature of the state. The disbanded party promptly reformed itself under a new name, the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi), which in turn was found unconstitutional on the same grounds in 1999. This provoked a split in the party's ranks, with the gelenekçiler or traditionalists remaining true to the Turkish Islamist movement's traditional Islamic fundamentalism, and the yenilikçiler or renewalists, led by Erdoğan seeking to adopt Islaimist politics to a secular democratic system. Erdoğan led the renewalists into the new Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi), while the traditionalists formed the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi). The Justice and Development Party, on the back of widespred discontent with the traditional parties' handling of the economy and the 1999 earthquake, took 34.3% of the vote in the 3 November, 2002 parliamentary elections, and due to Turkey's system of allotting seats, won an overall majority in the Grand National Assembly.

Erdoğan's appointment as Prime Minister was delayed after his party's victory in the elections for legal reasons. The prime minister in Turkey must be a member of parliament and the constitution excluded those with previous convictions from standing. A prominent supporter of Erdoğan, Abdullah Gül, became a stand-in prime minister and pushed through a constitutional amendment that allowed Erdoğan to win a freshly vacant seat in the province of Siirt in a by-election. Gül resigned (to become foreign minister) and Erdoğan was appointed Prime Minister by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Erdoğan has since provoked some tension with the country's powerful and staunchly secular military by pursuing what it perceives as an Islamist agenda. In particular, Erdoğan has provoked Turkey's secular élite by seeking to make the qualifications of graduates from the religious Imam Hatip schools equal to those of conventional high school graduates in university admission. However, chastened by the experience of the Welfare and Virtue parties, he has not pursued issues such as Turkey's headscarf ban as rigorously as expected, and has maintained close military relations with the United States and Israel.

His distrust for the military has, however, led to a thawing of relations with Greece, as he has little sympathy for its staunch nationalism, and little interest in maintaining a hard line on Turkish control of Northern Cyprus, preferring instead to focus on domestic issues and on improving foreign relations. In May 2004, he became the first Turkish prime minister to visit Greece since 1988, and the first to visit the Turkish minority of Thrace since 1952. The visit was remarkably congenial on both sides, and Erdoğan scored an important victory when his Greek counterpart, Costas Caramanlis, declared that Greece would support a Turkish bid for European Union membership, a major aim of Erdoğan's administration.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been married to Emine since 4 July, 1978, and has two sons and two daughters.

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